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Medical tourism insurance: Travel insurance that covers cosmetic surgery

Does travel insurance cover me for plastic surgery overseas?

Going overseas for cosmetic surgery (commonly known as medical tourism) is becoming increasingly popular for Australians. With lower surgical costs and improving standards of health care beyond our shores, heading abroad for a nip and tuck may seem like the logical move.

However, if you’re going overseas to go under the knife, you’ll find it difficult to find travel insurance that will cover you. The basic tenet of travel insurance is to provide cover for the unforeseen and unexpected. Any cosmetic or elective surgery you plan to receive overseas would be classed as a pre-existing condition and excluded from cover. Not only will your surgery not be covered, any complications or other expenses arising from the surgery will not be covered.

This guide looks at heading overseas for cosmetic surgery and how to get travel insurance.

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What is medical tourism

The term medical tourism refers to the practice of combining elective surgery with a holiday abroad. It is now a multi-million dollar industry in Australia, with an estimated 15,000 of us travelling overseas every year for cut-price treatments including plastic surgery, breast implants and enhancements, weight loss procedures and dental treatment.

And while the cost of surgical treatment overseas is much lower than in Australia, the risks are also much higher. But despite this, the practice of medical tourism is on the increase, to the point where some health insurance companies are beginning to offer various forms of cover to medical tourism participants.

What are your options for getting treatment abroad?

Health insurance does not cover elective surgery in Australia or overseas, so if you want cover for elective surgery in another country, you basically have one of two options:

  • NIB Options. Take out NIB Options, a service which organises your entire trip for you, including recommending the surgeon, arranging the procedure and booking your flights and accommodation.
  • Go Dental. Organise everything yourself and insure your trip by taking out specialised cover such as that being offered by Go Dental.

How does it work?

NIB Options is not health insurance, but a fee-for-service product offered as a policy extension with NIB travel insurance. It offers a safer way of receiving non-traditional cosmetic and dental treatment both overseas and here in Australia.

NIB only recommends accredited plastic surgeons in Australia with at least 12 years education and in other countries, only certified surgeons with at least five years training and 12 years education. NIB covers the surgery and aftercare and if there are any complications they also cover the cost of follow up treatment in Australia for up to one year after having the procedure.

The Go Dental Tourism policy is an optional extension available on their Basic and Go Plus travel insurance policies. It covers trip cancellation, emergency overseas dental treatment due to complications, additional transport and accommodation if complications prevent you from returning home and return travel and accommodation for remedial dental treatment if your procedure is unsuccessful.

After dental tourism insurance?

How can I pay for the procedure?

If you take out NIB Options, you will be charged an upfront fee that will cover all your costs. If you organise your own overseas procedure, you will need to pay for everything yourself including the surgery and clinic, your flights and accommodation, plus any additional fees such as consultation fees, lab work, medications, anaesthesia and aftercare.

If you need to pay upfront yourself in local currency, online money transfer and exchange services such as WorldFirst are a good way of doing this online. As well as letting you pay immediately at current conversion rates, they also offer the option of a forward contract, where you can pay for a service in the future at a more favourable conversion rate.

Tips for anyone considering getting surgery overseas

  • Don’t make the decision lightly. Cosmetic surgery can be risky, especially when performed overseas, so think very carefully about whether this is the right option for you before you go any further.
  • Don't go too far from home. If complications develop after your surgery, the best person to deal with those complications is often the doctor who treated you initially. Unfortunately, that doctor could be thousands of kilometres away by the time any problems arise. Getting corrections done at a later date, either back in Australia or by returning overseas, will be expensive.
  • Know the risks. If you’re heading to a tropical environment to get your surgery done, keep in mind that there is an increased risk of infection in a tropical climate.
  • Be careful of dodgy implants. Depending on where you plan on getting your surgery done, be aware that cosmetic implants may not have had to go through the same strict approval process as that imposed by Australia’s Therapeutic Goods Association.
  • Remember to factor in flight and accommodation costs. Even if a procedure is significantly cheaper overseas than in Australia, don’t forget that you will need to include flight and accommodation costs in your overall budget.
  • Do your research. It’s crucial that you investigate the quality of the medical facility you plan on visiting to make sure it is properly accredited. Does the facility have the same standards of care as an Australian hospital? Do the devices and items they use meet Australian standards?
  • Choosing a surgeon. You’ll also need to research the treating doctor and find out their level of experience, qualifications and accreditation. For example, are they a member of the International Society of Aesthetic Plastic Surgery?
  • Worst-case scenario. Consider what will happen if something goes wrong with your procedure. Will the surgeon admit liability or will you be left facing expensive medical bills?
  • What happens afterwards? It’s also important that you find out about the post-operative care you will receive. What will the total cost of the procedure be and how long will recovery take?
  • Coming home. You may need to be a little flexible when it comes to choosing the date of your return to Australia in case you need to remain overseas to assist with your recovery. When you do fly home, choosing the most direct route possible is important to ensure a smoother recovery.
  • Seek out personal recommendations. Ask friends and family for information about their experiences with overseas cosmetic surgery. Do they have any advice or recommendations?

Are you covered by the reciprocal health care agreement for cosmetic surgery overseas?

A reciprocal health care agreement (RHCA) is an agreement in place between the Australian government and the government of a foreign country. Under such an agreement, Australian citizens can receive subsidised access to basic health care treatment that is immediately necessary. There are currently agreements in place with the United Kingdom, the Republic of Ireland, New Zealand, Belgium, Italy, Malta, the Netherlands, Sweden, Slovenia, Finland and Norway.

However, RHCAs do not provide any cover for Australian travellers undergoing elective treatment, so you won’t be covered for overseas cosmetic surgery or any resulting complications.

Why get travel insurance then?

Just because you’re planning to undergo elective surgery during your trip doesn’t mean that you won’t be able to take out a travel insurance policy. It just means you won’t be able to receive cover for any losses related to the surgery.

There are several insurers who are willing to offer you travel insurance cover for all the usual potential travel risks that do not relate to you going under the knife. This means that your hospital accommodation, medication and the cost of treatment will not be covered, nor will any other events that are a result of the surgery. For example, if there are complications following your surgery that result in your hospitalisation and you have to cancel pre-booked flights to your next destination, your policy will not provide any cover.

But you will be able to receive cover for all other losses you incur on your holiday provided they are not related to the surgery. Travel insurance can provide cover for the following:

  • Overseas emergency medical and hospital expenses. If you suffer an unexpected illness or injury on your journey, you’ll be covered for the cost of ambulance transportation, medical treatment, hospital accommodation and repatriation if required.
  • Additional accommodation and travel expenses. If you can’t travel due to an injury or illness overseas, the extra accommodation and travel expenses you incur as a result will be covered.
  • Cancellation fees and lost deposits. If circumstances beyond your control force you to cancel or cut short your trip, for example if your travelling companion suffers a serious illness, the cancellation fees you are charged and any non-refundable deposits you have paid will be covered.
  • Luggage and personal belongings. The cost of repairing or replacing lost, stolen and damaged personal belongings will be included in cover.
  • Travel delay. When your trip is delayed by circumstances outside your control, you’ll receive funds to cover your additional meals and accommodation expenses.
  • Accidental death and permanent disability. Lump-sum benefits are payable if you become permanently disabled or die as a result of an injury suffered on your journey.
  • Cash and travel documents. Theft of cash and the loss, theft or damage of your important travel documents are all covered.
  • Rental vehicle excess. If your rental car is crashed, stolen or damaged, you’ll receive cover for the rental vehicle insurance excess you need to pay.
  • Personal liability. Travel insurance also offers protection if you cause bodily injury to someone else or damage their property during your journey.

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If you're heading abroad to receive medical treatment, you won't find a travel insurance policy that'll cover you for loses related to your cosmetic procedure, but it's a good idea to protect yourself from other common insurable events.

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Richard Laycock

Richard is the Insurance Editor at finder, and has been wrangling insurance Product Disclosure Statements for the last 4 years. When he’s not helping Aussies make sense of the fine print, he can be found testing the quality of Aperol Spritzes in his new found home of New York. Richard studied Journalism at Macquarie University and The Missouri School of Journalism, and has a Tier 1 certification in General Advice for Life Insurance. He has also been published in CSO Australia and Dynamic Business.

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2 Responses

  1. Default Gravatar
    JaneMay 14, 2017

    Can I get insurance cover for upper and lower eye surgery in Vietnam?

    • finder Customer Care
      ZubairMay 15, 2017Staff

      Hi Jane,

      Thank you for your question.

      Currently, none of the brands in the panel cover elective overseas medical treatment.

      nib offer a fee-for-service product that covers overseas medical costs.

      You will need to contact nib directly about this product.


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